Four Tips to Crack the American Latino Market in Hollywood

Guest Blog Post by Erick Castrillon

As a millennial American Latino I grew up in a whirlpool of ideas that have radically influenced who I am and how I perceive my surroundings. Like me there are millions. Yet we feel rare, underrepresented, misrepresented, like hazy reflections or even worse, like vampire reflections (as Junot Diaz puts it). Not there at all!

There is this collective sense of shame I have identified time and again amongst my Latino compadres.  The shame I’m talking about is subtle but lethal like a ninja fart: the Hollywood myth. The subservient landscape worker. The hyper-sexualized chonga. The stoner homie. The brainless thug. The exotic Othello. The evil gangster. The incompetent leader . . . Ah! I start to hear the bongos of my ancestors. Los del maíz. My jungle savages. Yes. I start to feel the color of my skin . . .

This phenomenon is at its worse whenever I travel. Many times when I establish contact with foreigners all they know about me is the resounding name of Pablo Escobar—because I was born in Colombia. Folks joke about it. But it’s difficult to make them understand it ain’t funny, actually. I have to try extra hard every time to prove I’m not the reputation of my country. Familiar with this feeling?

Regardless of this BS, talks, data, and trends of the emerging American Latino demographic point at one thing that’s for sure: we have become a relevant “consumer force.” Yet why isn’t the media catering to what we want to watch and the way we want to be perceived? As a Latino USC MFA alumni, Film Independent Fellow, and head of creative development at Scratch & Sniff Pictures, I have come up with four ideas that serve as a guideline for those of bicultural descent whom are inspired to construct masterly told Hollywood narratives about underrepresented people.

1.    KNOW THE CRAFT AND ACHIEVE INSPIRATION

In preparation for writing a screenplay you must be familiar with the language of cinematic film. Start by reading screenplays of your favorite movies. Let the masters’ ideas seep into your pores. Your goal is to create something as beautiful and impacting as the thing they’ve made.

For this, you will have to be rigorous and demanding with yourself and those who choose to collaborate with you. Read books and screenplays. Attend talks. Form a writer’s group. In short, BE A WRITER ACTIVELY. Find like-minded collaborators. Watch films. Dissect scenes. Find out why is that scene is interesting to you. What function does it serve for the rest of the story? Notice what makes you feel suspense in movies. What evokes laughter in you? What evokes anger? Sadness?  This is the beginning of your idea. So make sure to nurture it with top-of-the-shelf inspiration!

2.    CHARACTERS SHOULD BE AS SMART, COMPLEX, AND SPECIFIC AS YOU ARE

I was one of a handful of non-white candidates in my M.F.A. class. What I learned at USC was that my instructors and classmates were most interested in my work whenever I explored situations that had to do with my family, close friends, and relatives. Over and over I got remarks from people saying how they had never encountered characters in the media quite like the ones I was creating.

I was only writing about what I knew using cinematic tools that I had been learning there. I was having fun with my voice, always trying to amuse myself first. I was truthful about how complex my people really are. I invented character as smart, sophisticated, funny, brave, non-victimized, and flawed as the true heroes in my life.

That’s your real challenge. Hollywood is interested in innovation—your way to innovate is by constructing amazing stories with universal human themes about people whom are rarely portrayed in the media—using modern cinematic language that all audiences can and will be able to understand.

3.    BE AS IRRESISTIBLE AS A CRÈME BRULEE

As a filmmaker your goal is to entertain an audience and move their emotions. Many of us have fallen into the trap of wanting to change the world by showing a glimpse of “reality.” Unfortunately it is often true that reality doesn’t make for great drama.

As a fiction filmmaker one must understand that the important messages that one feels like communicating will only be transmitted successfully if that message is delivered in a way that provides entertainment value. This means that you have to create a spectacle first, so well timed and so well constructed that your audience will have no choice but to be mesmerized by it. Think about those movies that held you in awe and attempt to do something similar with characters that come from your own life. Imagine if instead of Sandra Bullock on Gravity, Your tía Chavela (who makes a mean tamal) was the one servicing the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Okay that’s one idea that you can take or leave if you liked Gravity, but you get my gist. Give awesome roles to your non-white leads.

4.    ENGAGE WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

You will be surprised at how many minorities are in on the struggle for fair representation. So tap into that vein. Your people want to help you make your film. You are the vessel with the message they want.

You need to be heard. Why, though?

Tell your community the value of what you are trying to achieve. Let the people that surround you know that your work carries with it their shared hopes and fears. Let them know that you are the person who will represent them in the eyes of popular culture.

You are the one responsible for doing the legwork to improve how we are perceived in the eyes of America and the rest of the world. You are creating our community’s heroes for today and for the future. So be prepared to deliver should you be given the opportunity to shine!

Erick Castrillon  – USC M.F.A. graduate in Writing for the Screen & Television, Film Independent Project Involve Fellow, Head of Creative Development at Scratch & Sniff Pictures.

Follow us in the making of our upcoming short film BLAST BEAT, an uber-metalized Latino adventure that’ll kick your ass back to the Y2K.

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My Favorite Latino/a Blogs for 2014/2015

This may be my last post recommending my favorite Latino blogs. I posted entries in 2009, 2010, and 2011 then took a long break until now. There are so many Latino/a-based blogs out there making it extremely difficult for me to list my favorites. Initially, I wanted to showcase the wonderful work of Latino/a bloggers and encourage others to undertake the art of blogging.  In 2015, there is no shortage of Latino/a-based stories in the blogosphere. However, I wanted to take another opportunity to recognize the work of some pretty amazing blogs. Check them out and feel free to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Here are my favorite seven Latino/a blogs for 2014/15:

  • Odilia Rivera-Santos –  Odilia Rivera-Santos is an Afro-Puerto Rican artist/educator born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico who presently resides in the Bronx, NYC. She is the author of a book of poetry entitled, Love When You Say Love.
  • Juan of WordsJuan of Words is a Mexican lifestyle blog written by Juan, Anjelica, and Edgar who are all from the great state of Texas. Juan of Words is a snapshot into the lives that make up this Mexican-American family.
  • GUBlife (formerly Growing Up Blackxican)GUBlife a blog about family life, fun adventures and new traditions from a diverse modern family. The lifestyle blog provides readers with posts about culture+tradition, crafts+DIY, marriage+parenting, food+recipes, travel, and bilingualism (English/Spanish.)
  • Latina On a Mission – Latina On a Mission is a blog by Migdalia Rivera about life, style, and substance for the modern Latina. Follow this “Latina On a Mission” to learn how she thrives while living frugally and raising two boys on her own.
  • Latino Foodie – Based in Los Angeles, Latino Foodie highlights cultural trends in food and beverage and has become a source for home cooks and foodies to come together for original and adapted recipes and cultural capsules educating readers of the history of Latino food and cuisine.
  • Tech Life Magazine – Tech Life Magazine is a blog by Eva Smith focusing on technology trends, food, music, entertainment and lifestyle news. Eva Smith has received several awards and recognitions including Latina’s “25 Women Who Shine In Tech” and USA Today’s “6 Latin@ Bloggers to Watch.”
  • Los Rodriguez LifeLos Rodriguez Life is a blog by Javier (from Chile) and Leslie (from Kentucky) who love the married life and thought it would be cool to share some of the things they do. They originally started the blog so that Javier’s family in Chile could keep in touch with their daily lives from a distance.

If you would like to share some of your favorite Latino blogs you are welcome to mention them in the comments section.

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Brooklyn Borough President’s 2014 Latino Heritage Celebration

Thanks to my good friend Farid Ali, co-owner of Bogota Latin Bistro, I had the opportunity to attend the Brooklyn Borough President’s 2014 Latino Heritage Celebration. Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna hosted an incredible event honoring many Latinos contributing greatly to the communities of Brooklyn.

The evening was full of speeches and award presentations, but it provided an excellent arena to thank and recognize those in the community that have dedicated their time to making Brooklyn a better place. Borough President Adams spoke of “one Brooklyn” and is really working hard at trying to unify the diverse populousness.

I missed the news late last year of Diana Reyna’s appointment as Deputy Brooklyn Borough President so it was a pleasant surprise finding out at the event. I remember her good work in Ridgewood, Queens in the early 2000s. She owned the evening with her command of the Spanish language and overall grace.

There were so many honorees at tonight’s event and I unfortunately cannot list them all in this brief blog post, but I do want to give a shout out to Angelo Falcon for his continued commitment to Puerto Rican politics, community and culture. I also want to mention freshman City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting. I have heard great things thus far about Menchaca and I am sure he’ll have a prosperous political career.

But my favorite part of the night was getting another chance to see and hear the Speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito. I met her once way back before she became a city councilmember. She is the first Latino Speaker of the City Council. She just always gives me a huge sense of Boricua pride and I have always felt that she is truly one of those politicians that really care about people and what she can contribute to the Latino political world.

I would like to thank the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office for presenting the Latino event in partnership with Brooklyn (Kings County) Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Ponce De Leon Federal Bank. It’s always incredible being around Latinos making moves and helping others out in the process.

Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna (left) and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the NYC Council, at the Brooklyn Borough President's Latino Heritage Celebration. - Thurs. Oct. 30, 2014.

Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna (left) and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the NYC Council, at the Brooklyn Borough President’s Latino Heritage Celebration. – Thurs. Oct. 30, 2014.

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Views of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island.

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island.

Yesterday I spent the day on Governors Island and took the following incredible shots of Lower Manhattan. As a native New Yorker, I have to say this trip provided me with the most spectacular views of Lower Manhattan I’ve ever seen. The ferry cost was only $2 round-trip. That is an amazingly low price for the ability to capture these magnificent scenic views.

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island, take 2.

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island, take 2.

Once on Governors Island you can learn about its history, gaze at its historic structures, rent a bicycle to take a ride around the island, enjoy an array of delicious items served from food trucks, and spend the afternoon relaxing at a quaint beer garden. If you have not visited Governors Island yet, I recommend you get out there before the summer is over and enjoy the phenomenal panoramic views of Lower Manhattan.

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island, take 3.

View of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island, take 3.

(These photos were taken with my iPhone. Feel free to click on the photos above to get a better view of the actual shoot.)

 

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Samuel Diaz Carrion’s Launch Party for “Our Nuyorican Thing” – Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Samuel Diaz Carrion is having his Launch Party for his recently released book, Our Nuyorican Thing, The Birth of a Self-Made Identity on Sunday, June 29th at 2:00-3:30PM at Taller Boricua in New York City. The event will be hosted by legendary Nuyorican poet, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez.

Poet, writer and activist Diaz Carrion explores the question, “What is a Nuyorican”? and more in OUR NUYORICAN THING. What started out as blog correspondence for the Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s website (2001-2004), quickly turned into a cultural exchange about the Cafe and Puerto Rican culture. OUR NUYORICAN THING is a compendium of those blog entries and emails that also include poetry and short prose through the eyes of Diaz Carrion, a “Puerto Rican Indiana Jones” who has quietly studied “the trade route of a new language . . . collecting poetry and stories as the artifacts of the day.” This collection is riveting, informative and delightful, and will satisfy any reader with a cultural appetite. OUR NUYORICAN THING’s introduction by Puerto Rican poet, performer, professor, and polemicist, Urayoán Noel.

Join Diaz Carrion this Sunday afternoon as he shares his prose and poetry as he enlightens us about the Nuyorican experience.

TALLER BORICUA
1680 Lexington Avenue, NYC | 212.831.4333
Entrance on Lexington Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets
Subway: 6 Train to 103rd Street

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Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West



If you are a fan of Seth MacFarlane you will definitely enjoy A Million Ways to Die in the West. I was not a fan but I now have some admiration and respect for the creator of “Family Guy” who directed, produced and co-wrote the film. Any comedy western will be compared to the classic Blazing Saddles however there weren’t many similarities between the two films except for a great deal of flatulence humor. For me the movie began a little slowly and I had to get used to MacFarlane’s sense of humor.  Eventually I caught on and found myself laughing here and there and following the entertaining storyline. However overall I found the film to be a bit too violent for a comedy and there were some tasteless racist jokes throughout that I found offensive. The movie is R rated containing explicit sexual content not appropriate for younger viewers.

The movie does have some amazing cinematography and awesome sound effects accompanied by a love story between MacFarlane’s sheep herder character and that of Charlize Theron’s character who is married to a notorious villain played nicely by Liam Neeson. My favorite scenes included any shots of Theron who’s beauty always captivates. Another scene stealing actor in the film is the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris who had some really hilarious scenes.

The ensemble cast also includes Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, and Sarah Silverman. There are also some surprise cameos from actors you’ll remember and enjoy seeing on the big screen again. I enjoyed the film but wished I would have laughed a bit more frequently. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being fantastic I would give A Million Ways to Die in the West a 6 mainly because dying of laughter was not one of the million ways to die in this mediocre comedy western.


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#Socialnomics 2014 by Erik Qualman

Any time I find something interesting online I like to share it far and wide. I came across a cool and informative video about social media by Erik Qualman entitled #Socialnomics 2014. I thought I would post the video here and highlight a few incredible statistics. You can check out the full video below.

Here are some facts to keep in mind next time you engage in social media:

  • 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old.
  • One in five couples meet online.
  • Three in five gay couples meet online.
  • “Selfie” is now a word in Webster.
  • Every second two new members join LinkedIn.
  • Grandparents are the fastest growing demographic on Twitter.
  • 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations.


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